Students At Warner Pacific Thrive On Strong Community Service Links

Diverse population of students learn leadership skills through community outreach.

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 Growing up, Ricki Ruiz Madrigal knew people who had struggled. Some of his Reynolds High School classmates had been in gangs, gone to prison, become young parents unexpectedly.

He also knew some who had chosen to attend Warner Pacific College and were thriving. With the help of Warner Pacific recruiters, he applied for and was one of the 10 students selected annually for the Act Six full-need scholarship program at the College.

“Ricki didn’t have the highest GPA, but there was something about him,” says Warner Pacific’s President, Dr. Andrea Cook.

“We thought if we could get ahold of him long enough to fan this inner flame, he will change the world. That’s what we look for.”

Today, Ruiz Madrigal’s flame is burning bright. To College officials, he perfectly embodies what they are trying to do with the school and its students.

Cook contends that at Warner Pacific, “we are preparing them to be leaders in their careers and communities”.

Ruiz Madrigal studied social entrepreneurship, and leveraged his degree into a job with the City of Gresham immediately after graduating in May 2016. In that position, he is continuing to manage and expand a program he started as a student at Warner Pacific.

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Warner Pacific is invested in preparing the next generation of diverse leaders because many of its students come from local communities and will take jobs in the Portland Metro area after graduating.

“It’s a big part of what we do here,” Cook says.

Ruiz Madrigal already knew his East County neighborhood well. “There are 90 different languages spoken there. Spanish, Korean, Russian — it’s a beautiful thing.”

He wanted to provide mentorship through sports. The one sport that crosses 90 different cultural lines is soccer.

On public land, working with other partners, his Rockwood Initiative and Academy has led efforts to build three futsal fields (small soccer fields). Related programming will serve more than 200 kids this fall.

He is the product of a deliberate decision by Warner Pacific College officials a few years ago to reinvent what they do, and who they serve.
Instead of going big, they chose to go local — but in a big way. Call it a mission of community, to community, for community.

“We have gone through a significant transformation,” says Cook. “Who is the high school student today? In Multnomah County, there’s been a dramatic shift. We’ve been attentive to that.”

Warner Pacific’s numbers speak volumes. More than 50 percent of its 1,200 students come from communities of color. Most recently, 27 percent of students were of Hispanic descent. More than 30 percent are first-generation collegians.

“Over 66 percent of our freshman class is Pell Grant eligible, which is only available to students with significant financial need,” says Dr. Reginald T.W. Nichols, vice president for academic affairs. “That is a unique space.”

According to Cook, Warner Pacific has been very clear about focusing its lens on becoming the first-choice four-year institution for its adjacent communities.

Driven by its faith-based tradition, the College has built a rich web of community partnerships. That includes outreach efforts to nearby high schools and community colleges.

“We partner with Portland, Clackamas and Mt. Hood community colleges to create pathways for their students to a four-year degree,” Nichols says. “Our graduation rates within five years are in the high 80s and low 90s.”

Warner Pacific believes community engagement is vital to the learning process, with students contributing at least 10 hours of service per semester.

Warner Pacific students provided 49,000 hours of service to the community last academic year.

Ruiz Madrigal followed a traditional path. Mike Moreland was already a working professional when he came to Warner Pacific for a master’s degree that would help him as vice president of human resources for strategic partners of Providence Health & Services.

“I really love the cohort model of study,” he says. “It was tremendous to be in a classroom with folks from different walks of life, different businesses.”

He gets a lot of requests to volunteer, but agreed only recently to join the Warner Pacific board “because I really believe in what they do, and I believe that serving is part of learning.”

About half of Warner Pacific’s students are like Moreland, adult learners who bring age and experience to the classroom one evening a week through the College’s Adult Degree Program.

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The College is always looking for ways to create pathways to success for students of all ages. This summer, 160 kids in third- through ninth grades — many of color, many of them in foster care — participated in the six-week Champions Academy on campus. They attended class in the morning and trained in their chosen sport in the afternoon, with an assist from Portland’s Holla Mentors and the Portland Leadership Foundation.

“We keep thinking about how we can help our city flourish, how do we serve, how do we lean in, and how do we engage,” Cook says.

“It’s saying to our students, your degree empowers you to go back into your community and have an impact.”